FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Diane Pratt-Heavner
School Cafeteria Professionals Call on Congress to Support FY15 Ag Approps Bill
National Harbor, MD (June 11, 2014) – As the House of Representatives prepares to vote on the Fiscal Year 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, School Nutrition Association (SNA), representing 55,000 school cafeteria professionals nationwide, called on Members to support language providing a temporary, one-year waiver for school meal programs operating at a net loss for 6 months or more under the new nutrition standards. SNA also called on USDA and Congress to provide flexibility to help schools prepare healthy meals students will eat.
Today, eight school nutrition professionals discussed their ongoing efforts to offer healthier choices and the operational challenges they have faced under the new standards. To listen to an audio recording of the conference call, click here.
“School nutrition professionals support and are already meeting many of the new standards for school meals. But today we bear witness to the ways that some of the overly-prescriptive regulations have had unintended consequences, impeding our efforts to serve healthy, appealing meals to students,” said Dr. Becky Domokos-Bays, RD, SNS, Vice President-Elect of the School Nutrition Association and Director of School Nutrition Services, Alexandria City (VA) Public Schools.
Participants included program directors interested in applying for the proposed waiver, who provided the following statements in advance of the call:
“Under the new standards, the number of our students choosing to purchase a lunch has declined significantly, and with the new Smart Snack regulations starting next year, our program cannot afford to take another financial hit. The one-year waiver would give us time to do more taste tests to identify new menu items that meet the standards and appeal to our students. That way students will be ready for the next changes and we will already have some buy in. We would never take a step backward on the nutrition of the foods we serve – we just need more time and flexibility to find healthy foods the kids will accept.” Janet Allen, SNS, Food Service Supervisor, Walled Lake Consolidated School District (MI)
“We are trying to keep our school meal program viable for all the children it serves, but these standards are driving students away from the program, particularly the paying child, and that is not the intent of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. We have increased the variety of fruits and vegetables we are offering, but I am concerned that the restrictive nature and cost associated with the July 1 requirements could lead to the end of our universal breakfast program. The waiver would give us time to try and manage these costs and identify more menu items that the students like.” Cindy Marion, Child Nutrition Director, Yadkin County Schools (NC)
Speakers also included other school nutrition professionals whose programs are among the 90% of schools certified as meeting the 2012 standards, but who are nonetheless struggling and concerned about the long term viability of their programs. Challenges cited ranged from declining student participation and revenues, increased costs and food waste and regulatory burdens that have hindered their efforts to serve healthier meals that appeal to students.
Concerns were also expressed about the impact of standards set to take effect on July 1, including the Target 1 sodium reductions, the mandate that all grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich, increases in the amount of produce offered and served at breakfast, and the new Smart Snacks in School standards. All participants called on USDA and Congress to provide schools with reasonable flexibility to help achieve the many shared goals of the standards.
“As a dietitian and school nutrition professional, I am devoted to serving healthy meals to my students, but many of these requirements are unattainable to schools, or to families. We’ve had successful acceptance offering 50% of our grains as whole grain rich, but the new 100% whole grain rich requirement is more restrictive than the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and will affect everything with breading, pasta, tortillas, crackers, breakfast breads and cereals, even croutons for salad. There needs to be some flexibility so the products available and preferences of students can catch up and adjust to those changes.” Debbi Beauvais, RDN, SNS, District Supervisor of School Nutrition, Gates Chili, East Rochester & East Irondequoit Schools (NY)
“We were in classrooms encouraging children to choose and eat from our 4-5 daily fruit and vegetable options long before the requirement. But our students don’t like to be forced to take food they don’t want. We’ve found that nearly a quarter of the food on our elementary school trays now ends up in the garbage. Meanwhile, the new Smart Snacks in Schools sodium restrictions will prevent us from selling an oven baked chicken breast filet with whole grain breading on a whole grain bun, but a 20 ounce diet Mountain Dew can be sold as a snack. Some of these regulations just don’t make sense.” Sara Gasiorowski, SNS, Food Service Director, MSD of Wayne Township (IN)
“I have served in this position for 27 years and am very passionate about child nutrition. I worked very hard to meet the menu requirements for the 2012-13 school year. But under the new standards, our federal reimbursements are down by $82,399, which has a tremendous impact on our small budget of 1.5 million. We have a long way to go on sodium, and the Smart Snacks rule is so complicated it will be almost impossible to train staff for back to school. We offer students a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day. They take it and eat by choice, but not by force. Why force students to take something they do not want? ” Joannie Miller, Director of Child Nutrition Programs, Bogalusa City Schools (LA)
“These days, I don’t need a dietitian to plan my menus, I need a mathematician. Under the new policies that take effect next month, we estimate our cost of serving breakfast in SY14-15 will increase by $882,000, with zero increase in breakfast reimbursement. At this cost ratio, the more breakfasts we serve, the more money our program will lose. The increased cost of breakfast alone may force us to cut back, or eliminate, otherwise extremely successful but costly initiatives, such as our premium entrée salad choices, featuring garden-fresh produce and lean proteins, at lunch time.” Michael Rosenberger, MBA, Director, Food & Nutrition Services, Irving Independent School District (TX)
“School nutrition professionals want to teach lifelong healthy choices and reinforce the good habits that parents encourage at home. We also want to be good stewards of the environment, particularly in the midst of California’s record drought. Forcing children to take, over and over again, foods they don’t want to eat, and are consequentially thrown away, runs contrary to both of these important goals.” Sally Spero, SNS, Child Nutrition Director, Lakeside Union School District (CA)
The stories shared today echo the concerns raised by school meal program operators nationwide. For additional stories, read SNA’s Stories from the Frontlines and listen to the May 28 media conference call. More examples of school nutrition challenges and other information can be found in SNA’s Fact Sheet. Click here for details on SNA’s policy requests.
About School Nutrition Association:
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 55,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. Founded in 1946, SNA and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students. To find out more about today’s school meals, visit www.TrayTalk.org.